Gerald Almy: Tips for successful river duck hunting
Rivers serve as both feeding and resting areas for ducks and offer some of the most consistent waterfowling available. They’re great early season spots and get even better late in the year when many ponds and lakes freeze and birds are forced to concentrate on flowages that remain open longer because of the moving current.
You can use a variety of tactics to hunt river ducks, but three methods are most effective: jump shooting, float hunting and setting out decoys. Some days I might employ several of these methods, decoying early flights shortly after dawn, then float hunting a stretch of river. During the float trip I might pause to execute a stalk-hunt and jump shoot ducks spotted far downstream but in a location difficult to drift up on in a boat. At other times, a given body of water will lend itself best to just one of the tactics.
Jump Shooting: This is useful on smaller creeks too shallow to float or medium sized rivers with good cover along the bank. You need enough vegetation or a high enough bank that you can stalk within clean shooting range — preferably 30 yards or less.
To execute this tactic, wear total camouflage and sneak quietly along parallel to the stream. If cover is thick, you can move close to the bank. If it’s sparser, stay 30 yards back and loop in to the stream’s edge every 50 to 75 yards. Improved cylinder or modified chokes are best for jump shooting with size 4 or 6 shot. You’ll need to get the landowner’s permission or find public land to try this tactic.
Float Hunting: Choose this option for medium to large rivers and streams with sufficient flow and depth so that you don’t scrape bottom continuously and scare birds out of range. It’s also a good approach when there are lots of bends in the river or cover such as brush and logjams along shore that birds can hang out below without fighting heavy current. This cover also helps you drift quietly into shooting range.
Spray paint your boat in splotches of drab olive, gray and brown and tie a few bushes on the bow to break up your human form. Johnboats or canoes both work well. Carry a modified choke gun and practice sculling quietly so you can keep the boat pointed straight at the ducks downstream until the bow person is within shooting range.
As a rule, only one person should shoot — the hunter in the bow of the boat. Trade positions frequently so that each hunter gets his fair share of shooting.
Decoying: This works best on broad, slow rivers and is most effective early and late in the day. Watch in mornings and evenings for flights of ducks moving up and down the river to locate good spots for setting up. Only 6-12 decoys are usually needed. Ducks don’t typically gather in large flocks on inland rivers.
Good spots to set out a spread include the edge of eddies where there’s enough water movement to keep the decoys stirring, points and the downstream side of islands. Elaborate blinds aren’t necessary. Use an old stump, brush pile or blowdown and drape a bit of camouflage netting over it or set up a small portable blind.
Sit back with an improved cylinder or modified choke scattergun and watch dawn’s majestic orange light and the winged silhouette of your quarry bring life to the river.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.